PHOTO GALLERIES- Celeb plastic surgery - they're all at it!- The trial - Michael, his fans, his foesThere are other Michael Jackson compilations around. They range from Number Ones (an 18 track CD that is exactly what it sounds like it is), to a Five CD, 73 track boxed set, to the optimistically named Greatest Hits Vol. 1. with only 16 tracks. But this new double CD set beats them hands down, showcasing a tasteful - yes, tasteful - 38 track selection of highlights from Jackson's career as the pop icon that owned the 80s. The first CD begins with highlights of the Jackson 5 days ("ABC", "I want you back", "Blame it on the boogie" and so on). There's something very weird about hearing a little kid singing song lyrics like "ABC" - "Sit down, girl!/I think I love you!/No!/Get up, girl!/Show me what you can do!" But hey, this isn't just any little kid - this is Michael Jackson, before he had himself bleached and carved into inhuman shapes, and before he was famous as much for his bizarre lifestyle and extravagant self-indulgence as he was for his hit songs.
Hearing Michael Jackson preserved as he was before he went all weird may actually make you feel a little tearful, if you are old enough to remember the ways he changed for the worse. After a bit of overkill on The Jackson 5 stuff, it moves on to his first era-defining solo work with producer Quincy Jones, chopping out the chaff and filler, and keeping four tracks from Off the Wall, and seven from Thriller, the narrative videos for which showed the rest of pop how it should be done and forced MTV, who had refused to air black artists, to change their policy and to play them practically to death.
On CD one, you're also treated to the hot and heady duet "Can you feel it" and the syrupy hit duet with Siedah Garret: "I just can't stop loving you" off Bad, on which we get our first taste of the multiple "uhs!" groans, "Ooohs!" and other vocal overkill that worked in moderation on Thriller, but helped mess up so much of Jackson's later work.
Bad stuff dominates on CD 2 with seven tracks - all of which were hits. And whatever they say about that album, it wasn't as terrible as disappointed critics made out. The production (Quincy Jones again) set new standards in pop so plastic it was rivalled only by Jackson's facial "work". All over the world, even people who claimed they hated Jackson's songs could be caught helplessly whining "I'm baaad, I'm baaad" when they weren't watching themselves carefully. "The way you make me feel" is still a massive clubbing track for a reason. "The man in the mirror" was recently covered by rising SA star MXO. Remember when the romance with "Dirty Diana" Ross was big gossip? Ah, the bad old days... when the lame but racially progressive hit "Black or white" surprised everyone by actually making pop radio playlists.
Of course, Michael's music goes from Bad to worse - which is what everyone said his next album should be called. Instead he called it Dangerous. He produced it himself.There's nothing much missing from the tracklisting, though some might look for "Liberian Girl". CD 2 runs out of good songs during the Dangerous stuff, though the infectious dry hump beats of "In the Closet" are worth multiple plays and its brilliant compared to songs like "Who is it" and the vomitous "Heal the world".Invincible yields slim pickings with only "You rock my world" making the cut on the shorter second CD.Overall, you won't do better for a Jackson compilation. It's neither too exhaustive (who really wants to own ALL his songs?), nor is it missing major moments in his undeniably astounding career.
- Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
"...people at large are going to remember Michael Jackson more for his Wacko Jacko public persona than for his exemplary body of work. Given recent events, the backlash is understandable, but in regards to the actual music being offered here, it's a damn shame."- David Raposa for Pitchfork Media
" ...only a tone deaf chimp could dislike 80 percent of what's on offer here. The revival has started..."- Chris Jones for BBC
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